Only, it just requires a willingness to stand in the space between the known and unknown, and hold the tension of mystery. With a little fleck of faith, the eyes of our heart can open wide enough to see what God is capable of doing – making all things new, bringing abundant life from suffering and death.
Years ago, when Kathleen and I were newly engaged, we went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. When we returned home, I noticed there was someone stirring around in my apartment.
For most, this might be cause for alarm. But this was the Formosa Ponderosa, a small community of eclectic people who lived and shared life together. It wasn’t uncommon to find someone in your kitchen borrowing some pasta or grabbing a beer. What surprised me was how Kathleen and our neighbors were able to throw a surprise party for me without me knowing it.
Everyone was there, except for my dear friend Matt. Which was odd because he and I had plans to make smoothies and play guitar that night. It was Lent, and I had given up drinking…so smoothies all around.
Kathleen was also surprised that Matt wasn’t there because the two of them had spent a week planning the party. When Matt finally arrived with groceries in tow, it was clear that he was the most surprised of all, having completely forgotten about the plans he helped set in motion.
Much like Matt, the disciples seemed a bit taken aback when they stood in the empty tomb where just a couple of days earlier, their best friend’s body had been laid to rest. They too had been part of the plan, but somehow forgot.
You gotta ask yourself, how is that possible? I mean, Peter and John were the closest to Jesus. They spent the last three years sharing life next to him, and went everywhere with him. They had witnessed, time and time again, the mysterious ways of God firsthand. And just accepted stuff that didn’t make sense, because they saw it with their own eyes. So why would this empty tomb be any different?
It’s not like Jesus didn’t give them plenty of clues. In fact, he told them point blank, "Here’s what’s going to happen. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." But like my buddy Matt, Mary, Peter, and John stood dumbfounded at the entrance of the tomb.
I’m sure we wouldn’t be any different. Some of us might react like John did. When he entered the tomb, he “saw and believed” even though he didn’t understand. John had seen enough crazy things up to this point, including people being raised from the dead, so perhaps his faith was willing to allow the mystery to be had.
Then there are those who are more like Peter, their faith is always questionable. As the text reveals, Peter isn’t so sure what to believe. In fact, he seems to have some more thinking to do because he and John return home.
And then there is Mary who, like most of us, doesn’t seem to get it at all. At least, not yet. But unlike most of us, Mary’s lack of understanding doesn’t cause her to doubt or run away. Instead she remains at the empty tomb, weeping and believing she has lost Jesus a second time. And then, for a second time, God surprised Mary.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. - John 20:11-18
Again, she still doesn’t get it when she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. How can we blame her? It doesn’t make sense.
To quote Barbara Brown Taylor, “Once a human being goes into the ground, that is that. You do not wait around for the person to reappear so you can pick up where you left off- at least not this side of the grave. You say good-bye; pay your respects; and go on with your life as best you can.”
Resurrection doesn’t make sense. And yet it does.
Although many have tried, there is nothing we can do to defeat death. But I believe God can. I can’t prove how, but I have faith in God’s faithfulness even though I don’t understand completely what that means.
But what I do understand, and science seems to back me on this, is that if God is able to resurrect a galaxy of dead stars into a new creation of living planets, then God can make life out of death.
As Rowen Williams writes, “There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss.” Thus, Easter teaches us one very important thing. God always wins. Nothing can defeat God, not even death. God is always victorious. Our sin, our stupidity, our selfishness is no match for God’s love for us.
And so we gather as a church, as the new, living Body of Christ to proclaim God’s glory revealed to us through Jesus, The Christ. “The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.”
This doesn’t make sense to Mary, like it didn’t to Peter and John. The eyes of her heart are still closed with pain and suffering. She cannot see that the man she meets in the garden is the One she longs for.
Then God surprises her a third time; flipping on the light so Mary can truly see the mystery of life that has always been there. Jesus says her name, and everything about Mary changes; her deepest despair turns to the greatest joy.
“For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated.” This announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; it changes us. There is now hope instead of hopelessness; light instead of darkness; joy instead of sadness. No wonder Mary’s first instinct is to grab hold of Jesus and never let go.
Yet, Jesus stopped her, telling her not to hold on but instead to let go. It’s as if Jesus is telling Mary, “There’s more to be done. Let go of me and run to tell the others what you know.”
By her obedience to Jesus’ request, “Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles. Whether or not Mary understood this perfectly didn’t matter to her. She believed in Jesus and faithfully did what he asked of her.
Being a faithful witness to this new life is the task of the church. It’s the whole point of claiming the name Christian. Following Jesus literally means following his way of love and service. This is how Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s redemptive love. And it’s how we must too.
As Mary shows us, Easter doesn’t end at the tomb. It begins there. And it has continued every day since, all the way up to today.
There’s more to the story because there’s more that needs to be done. More people to feed. More wounds to heal. More peace to bring. More wrongs to right. More sins to be forgiven. More people who need to know and feel and experience God’s love first hand through us.
Jesus sends Mary out to tell others. And the ones she tells will go and tell others. This pattern of faithful witnesses will continue throughout Anamesa until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
You don’t have to fully understand the Easter story to live it out. Just allow Jesus to come to life through you. Go and be little Christs, allowing God’s love to flow in and out of you.
Watch our Easter Service here
Six years ago, on Easter Sunday, a church was planted right here in our backyard. We made it our mission to love God, love others, and serve both.
We had no idea what we were doing or what we were up against. We just believed that God was calling us together for a reason. Through trial and error, I learned it’s not always easy to see or understand God’s wonderful surprises when struggling to keep our heads above water.
Just the same, I am sure it wasn’t easy to see God’s divine hand at work on a blood-stained cross or an empty tomb. But there it was, right before their eyes and no one understood. Yet eventually they would all believe. And each one would go and manifest God’s love throughout the world.
Richard Rohr reminds us that, “Resurrection is not a miracle to be proven; it is a manifestation of the wholeness that we are all meant to experience…”
Throughout all of creation we see how resurrection was not a one-time occurrence. It wasn’t some band-aid to fix something we broke. Resurrection has been a part of God’s blueprint since the beginning.
Like Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24 ).
Resurrection is the cycle of life; the completion of the incarnation; the birth of something new. Easter is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of an amazing new life that we get to live out every day.
God is always throwing a surprise party for us. But who will show up? Who will walk with us into Anamesa – that space where God comes to meet us in the most unexpected ways. Jesus is calling you by name. And he is sending you out to proclaim the good news.
The tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Death has lost its power over us. May we live faithfully to this truth, believing even if we don’t totally understand.
Rohr, Richard. Immortal Diamond. (Jossey-Bass: 2013) pp.83-90.
Swenson, Warren. Responding. April 2, 2023 (Accessed on April 5, 2023).
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Crowley: 1999)
Williams, Rowen. Easter Message 2014. (Accessed on April 5, 2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”